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French Version

Ceremonies far and wide pay tribute to Samir Kassir

Siniora: 'you are missed and your death will not be in vain'

A statue of Samir Kassir unveiled in the center of Beirut on Friday "will forever remain lit, as a reminder to passersby of his great sacrifice in freeing Lebanon," Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said.

The premier made the remarks during a dedication ceremony held in a square near An-Nahar building in Downtown Beirut on the first anniversary of Kassir's assassination.

"Pillar of freedom, weaver of dreams, and driving force of the red and white independence revolution, you are missed, Samir Kassir, and your death will not be in vain," Siniora declared.

The ceremony was attended by hundreds of people, including Kassir's children and widow and prominent politicians such as MP Walid Jumblatt.

Kassir, a well-known journalist and a prominent critic of Syria's near 30-year military presence in Lebanon, was killed on June 2, 2005, by a bomb planted in his car near his home in Achrafieh. The bombing was one of a string of assassinations last year widely attributed to Damascus and its Lebanese allies.

"I recall how once, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, another martyr whom you followed in the saga of Lebanon's struggle for independence, said to you, 'there is a cloud over Lebanon,' and you replied 'not a cloud, but a storm and one that will change our history for ever,'" said Siniora.

"There will be no return to the past, and those criminals responsible for the series of assassinations of our greatest minds will be prosecuted," Siniora added to heavy applause.

Several ceremonies were held in Lebanon and France to commemorate the anniversary of Kassir's assassination, including a demonstration at the bomb site near his residence and a visit to his grave by his family and colleagues.

In Lebanon, a stream of eulogies and tributes flooded in from various parties, mainly the March 14 Forces and the Free Patriotic Movement, paying tribute to a "great man, and a great loss to Lebanon."

"Kassir played a pivotal role in Lebanon's fight for independence, and will always remain the example to live by for all the Lebanese," MP Ghassan Mokheiber said at the ceremony, echoing similar statements issued by other MPs.

French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy released an official statement in which he said that the killing of Kassir should not go unpunished.

"This crime, like other assassinations committed in Lebanon over the past two years, cannot remain unpunished," Douste-Blazy said.

"France and the international community want the whole truth about this attack to be revealed by the ongoing investigations," he added.

The minister "salutes the memory of this widely respected personality who throughout the difficult times in Lebanon, embodied the spirit of independence and liberty while courageously pursuing his job as a journalist and writer."

France is conducting an investigation into the assassination of the prominent anti-Syrian intellectual, who also held dual French nationality.

In Paris, Kassir's friends announced the creation of an organization to "commemorate the one who embodied the promises of the 'Beirut Spring.'" Its members include former Culture Minister Ghassan Salameh, Palestinian delegate to the European Union Leila Shahid, award-winning Lebanese writer Amin Maalouf and French journalist Edwy Plenel.

In Beirut, a new EU-funded press freedom prize dedicated to the memory of the slain journalist was awarded to two journalists, Dina Abdel-Mooti Darwich of Egypt and Habib Battah of Lebanon.

Darwich, 35, took the top prize of 15,000 euros (about $19,000) for a January 10 article in the French-language Cairo weekly Al-Ahram Hebdo describing police brutality against journalists during parliamentary elections in Egypt last year.

Battah, 26, took the second prize of 10,000 euros for a June 18, 2005, commentary in The Daily Star, called "For an election reality check, visit your local Mukhtar," detailing corruption in the Lebanese parliamentary elections.

"This prize is not just a reward, but is meant to back words against arms and barbarism," said the head of the EU mission in Beirut, Patrick Renauld, at the award ceremony at the Albergo Hotel in Beirut. The ceremony was attended by Kassir's widow, Gisele Khoury, Telecommunications Minister Marwan Hamade and Information Minister Ghazi Aridi.

Renauld hailed "the name and the life of Samir Kassir, which we want to mark in the memory of the Arab world and Europe, as a symbol of the fight for freedoms."

Several international media groups, such as Reporters Without Borders and the Committee to Protect Journalists, also held events to honor Kassir.

Reporters Without Borders unveiled a huge flag representing a portrait of Kassir in front of Paris' Eiffel Tower.

"The failure to find and prosecute those responsible threatens the fundamental ability of the press to do its job, and will embolden those who seek to silence critical voices in the media," said the group's executive director, Ann Cooper.

Beirut,06 06 2006
Rym Ghazal
The Daily Star
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